BALTIMORE — From the bay window of her brick rowhouse, the little girl’s great-grandmother heard the gunshots, then saw Amy fall.
Amy Hayes, who had just turned 5 years old, was lying facedown in the street, bleeding from a bullet wound in the groin. The new doll she received for her birthday and named Cinderella was beside her.
In a city where 284 people have been killed this year and gun violence has mostly lost its power to shock, Amy’s shooting on Nov. 19 left many people here reeling. She was, they learned, the half sister of a 7-year-old who was shot in July. And though Amy Hayes is recovering from her injuries, Taylor Hayes did not. The second-grader died two weeks after she was hit by gunfire in the back seat of a car in Edmondson Village.
Baltimore’s children have suffered greatly from the chaos gripping the city — the fallout from Freddie Gray’s death in 2015 from an injury he suffered while in police custody, the rioting that followed and a police department in turmoil. Eight victims of fatal shootings this year have been under 18, according to a Baltimore Sun homicide database, including 13-year-old Montrell Mouzon, who was killed in October. A 3-year-old boy was grazed by a bullet Tuesday afternoon, just a week after Amy’s shooting.
Amy does not understand that her sister is gone, said her great-grandmother, Vivian Nealy, 62. “She said, ‘Taylor, she’ll be back.’ I just let her think that,” Nealy said.
She shook her head about the relentless violence in her beleaguered West Baltimore neighborhood, Sandtown-Winchester, where Gray was arrested three years ago.
“It’s terrible,” Nealy said. “Something’s got to be done. I’m scared to go out of the house. I don’t go to the market. Scared to go to a doctor’s appointment. If one of the kids is having something at school, I’m scared to come out of my house, really. Enough is enough.”
Amy’s shooting outraged Marvin “Doc” Cheatham Sr., president of the Matthew Henson Neighborhood Association, which represents a community five blocks away.
“We are having children shot. We are having random shootings,” he said. “The problem between the police and community is widening. It’s getting worse. It’s not getting better.”
He and others have accused Baltimore police of refusing to do their jobs after six officers were charged in the death of Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a fatal spinal injury in police custody. Three of those officers were found not guilty by a Baltimore judge, and criminal charges against the rest were dropped.
“Since Freddie Gray, police have taken a knee,” Cheatham said. “They are complaining about the football players taking a knee. But what about the police taking a knee?”
But others point to the refusal of many witnesses to cooperate with investigators — a no-snitching code that has left many homicides unsolved and the killers on the streets.
At a news conference after Amy was shot, a grim-faced Gary Tuggle, Baltimore’s interim police commissioner, decried the cycle of violence and asked the city’s residents for help in ending it.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “we have to do more, not just as a police department, but we have to do more as a community.”
Though Baltimore’s homicides have fallen from 2017’s record level, the city is likely to reach more than 300 killings by the end of the year. By comparison, Washington has recorded 150 killings so far this year.
Tuggle offered few details about the gunfire that left Amy hospitalized. “We know it was a shootout in the area,” Tuggle said. “We don’t know the motive.”
Having two little girls from the same family injured by gun violence, he said, “shows that some individuals don’t care who gets hurt, and they have to be removed from the street.” Tuggle stressed again the importance of witnesses coming forward: “If nobody says anything about it, believe me, it’s going to happen again.”
But his department’s credibility with the community it serves has been strained by allegations of police brutality and racial profiling.
In 2016, the Justice Department issued a scathing report about the way police targeted black residents and used excessive force as officers pursued years of “zero-tolerance law enforcement.” A federal judge approved a reform plan last year, calling the overhaul urgent after residents testified that they had lost faith in the police force.
The department remains mired in scandal and turbulence. At the beginning of this year, members of a gun task force testified that some officers stole more than $300,000, at least three kilos of cocaine, 43 pounds of marijuana and 800 grams of heroin, according to plea agreements and statements in federal court. Officers acknowledged that they put illegal trackers on cars of drug suspects so that they could rob them at home and sell the drugs and guns they found.
The department has not had a permanent chief since May, when Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa resigned after he was charged with failing to file federal income tax returns. Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) has chosen Joel Fitzgerald, the police chief in Fort Worth, to lead the department, but he made it clear he won’t leave Texas until the City Council votes on his contract next month.
Fitzgerald would be taking the helm of a department struggling to recruit officers for about 500 vacancies and dogged by high-profile resignations, including a uniformed officer captured in a viral video punching a man in the head and the October departure of longtime spokesman T.J. Smith, who cited “mudslinging” and instability in the ranks.
“The city and the police department are in chaos,” said Terry Williams, founder of Challenge2Change, which crusades against gun violence. “You’ve got killers out here killing killers.” And sometimes children get caught in the crossfire.
On a recent chilly morning, Williams drove to the battered neighborhood where Amy was shot. He unloaded dozens of posters of recent Baltimore homicide victims.
Then he lined the posters along the sidewalk, outside the window of Amy’s grandmother.
“You know how many unsolved homicide cases are in Baltimore City alone?” he asked. “It would amaze you to find out how many unsolved murders. If they are unsolved, it means the killer can still be on the loose or be one of these people in the pictures here.”
Williams pleaded for the killing to stop.
“To the brothers in ‘the Trap,’ stop doing this reckless shooting,” Williams shouted. “When you shoot recklessly, you don’t know who you are hitting.”
“The Trap is the city. The city is the Trap,” said Williams, 56. “The Trap is the drug-dealing corners, the mental illness, the poverty, the housing with lead paint, the broken homes, the broken families and the broken promises from the city. It’s hard to get out of that trap. But it’s not impossible. I hope someone will hear our deep cry for help.”
He also urged Amy’s shooter to turn himself in.
Williams walked across the sidewalk and knocked on the window of Amy’s great-grandmother.
Nealy slid open the window, then propped it open with a gigantic toy baby bottle.
Williams picked up a poster of Taylor, smiling and dressed in a white summer jumpsuit. “This is all our daughter,” it declared. Williams told Nealy he wanted to give her the poster. Then he slid it through Nealy’s window.
“I give my condolences to your family for Amy and Taylor,” Williams said. “I know that pain. I lost my son myself out here in these streets.”
His son, also named Terry Williams, was 32 when he was shot to death five years ago in Southwest Baltimore. The homicide remains unsolved. Since then, hundreds more people have been killed.
Nealy took the poster of Taylor and placed it inside her apartment. Then she returned to the same bay window she was sitting beside when Amy was shot about 6:20 p.m. on Nov 19. Nealy said Amy wanted to buy juice at the corner store after they had eaten sunflower seeds together. Nealy, who uses oxygen for lung problems, let her go, though it was already dark outside.
When Nealy heard gunshots and saw Amy fall, she said she thought her great-granddaughter had tripped over the shoelaces of her Pink Panther sneakers. She couldn’t tie her shoes well.
A neighbor picked Amy up and took her to a hospital, where she was in stable condition last week. “She’s a strong little baby,” said Linda Nealy, Amy’s great-aunt.
Vivian Nealy pointed to the corner where Amy’s blood still stained the street. A visitor walked over to look.
And then a passerby screamed: “You’re stepping in Amy’s blood.”